College Success: Economic and Moral Imperative

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shifts focus to student outcomes in major speech at UMBC.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined a new vision for American higher education in a major policy speech at UMBC on July 27, 2015. Emphasizing educational outcomes, Sec. Duncan said the primary focus should be on students graduating in a timely manner with a meaningful degree that will set them up for a lifetime of success.

Duncan delivered the speech before a standing-room-only crowd of students, faculty, staff, and higher education leaders from across the country in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building’s Proscenium Theatre. Choosing UMBC as the venue for his remarks, Duncan praised the University for its dedication to expanding college access, improving graduation rates, and preparing students for successful careers.

UMBC, the U.S. Department of Education said, “is a research university with an unusual commitment to innovative teaching and inclusive excellence. The university has redesigned courses from chemistry to English and supported thousands of undergraduate research experiences to promote active learning and increase success rates for students of all backgrounds.”

“UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars program has pioneered a comprehensive approach to recruiting and supporting minority students,” Sec. Duncan shared. “So far, over 900 students have graduated and 600 have gone on to earn advanced degrees. These scholars are five times as likely as similar students to have graduated from or still be enrolled in a STEM doctoral program.”

Following Sec. Duncan’s remarks, President Freeman Hrabowski joined Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander, LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow, President of the North Carolina Community College System and incoming president of Northern Virginia Community College Scott Ralls, Morgan State University President David Wilson, and State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Nancy Zimpher for a panel discussion on what institutions across the country are doing to improve student outcomes by boosting graduation rates and increasing accountability.

“The theme should be knocking down the boundaries across sectors,” Pres. Hrabowski explained. “The key…is to look at the culture of institutions to see what we are doing well and how to go about building upon what works and to be honest with ourselves about what does not work.”

“We are only investing in evidence-based strategies, and we are partnering extensively with K-12,” added Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, when describing how the SUNY system hopes to increase undergraduate degrees awarded annually from 93,000 to 150,000 in the next five years.

In his policy speech at UMBC, Sec. Duncan affirmed, “every hard-working student in this country must have a real opportunity to achieve a meaningful, affordable degree.” He argued, “America’s prosperity, our democracy, and our identity as a land of opportunity, depends on it.”

Describing the “heavy lifting and culture change” needed to deliver on the promise of opportunity, Sec. Duncan called for a three-part approach: managing college cost and debt, focusing on learning outcomes, and driving effective innovations like those he has seen at UMBC. Together, these changes constitute “the higher education challenge of our generation,” he said. “This is not just an economic imperative; it’s a moral necessity.”

Media coverage of Sec. Duncan’s speech at UMBC is listed below:

At UMBC, Duncan and college leaders discuss visions for higher education (Baltimore Sun)

Duncan wants more accountability in higher education. Easier said than done. (Washington Post)

Secretary of Education: Our higher ed system ‘isn’t delivering’ what students need (U.S. News)

Duncan tells Baltimore crowd that colleges need to focus on student success (The Daily Record)

The future of higher education in America (Education Department news)

Conversation about access can’t stop at affordability (Diverse)

The complexity of accountability (Inside Higher Ed)

Obama poised to give financial aid to federal, state prisoners (Politico)

Debt-free college plans ‘one part of fight’ to improve higher education: Arne Duncan (International Business Times)

Education secretary signals push to make colleges more accountable (Wall Street Journal)

States, U.S. must boost graduation rates, Duncan says in slamming college costs (L.A. Times)

U.S. higher education needs improvement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says (Kansas City Star)

Officials defend efforts of Iowa colleges, universities (Iowa City Press-Citizen)